Christopher Paul Stelling has never been much of a conformist. While many artists are expressing anxiety and frustration with the state of the world, Stelling has decided to celebrate harmony and contentment. It’s all the more noteworthy for an artist whose previous work has been fierce and dripping with social commentary.
He eases into the subject in the opening “Have to Do For Now”. Stelling begins with a reflection on a musician’s life, savoring the moments at home while knowing that a tour is on the horizon. He continues with a mix of anxiety, frustration, and hope:
I’m still alive, still alive
wanna work more than to survive
got the time, knowhow, and pride
that’ll have to do for now
Serenity arrives in the following “Lucky Stars”. “Thank my luck stars, who never let me down,” he sings, “hang up there in the sky and keep me on the ground.”
Later, on “Something In Return”, he acknowledges impatience and troublesome behavior. “Praying for the patience, for the trust we have to earn,” he acknowledges, “if you give a little something ,you get something in return.”
Ben Harper, who produced Best of Luck, softens Stelling’s edge in some places. “Trouble Don’t Follow Me” has a glorious 1960’s R&B feel while the closing “Goodnight Sweet Dreams” is a tender piano ballad. There is also “Blue Bird”, an exquisite guitar instrumental.
That said, Stelling still unleashes his guitar and lyrical fury on “Hear Me Calling” and “Until I Die”. The former is a stormy electric blues, slowing down for just a moment mid-song to declare “I’m in the weeds, sometimes the weed’s are the only thing that grows.” The latter finds him spitting out social commentary, at one point declaring:
There’s a blank stare out from the masses
We’re all on the chain gang of the upper classes
Change comes slowly like molasses
Until we die
Best of Luck) is both challenging and rewarding in all the right ways.
Portland, Oregon’s Fruition continue down their musical adventurous trail. The triple threat of singer-songwriters demonstrate the range of their talents on their third album in just over a year, jumping from the angular rock of “Do What You Want” to the Flaming Lips-style pop of “Nothing More Than Spinning” to the harmony-drenched folk of “At The End of the Day”.
It was hard to pick a favorite on Broken at the Break of Day, but I ultimately succumbed to the genteel beauty of “Counting the Days”.
The Dustbowl Revival are one of those bands that are made for these times. And it’s for reasons beyond the fact that they have a horn section (although that certainly adds to the jubilation). There’s an unquestionable – and infectious – energy and enthusiasm in their music. Even the ballads. Singers Z. Lupetin and Liz Beebe blend their voices beautifully, each imbuing the songs on Is It You, Is It Me with earnestness and soulfulness. The opening line to this song – “trying to so hard to be a better version of me” – should be a mantra for the day.
“Americana” is a misleading term. Few know that better right now than the musical community in Norway, who have been on a creative tear of late (with showing no signs of slowing down, I might add). The latest to showcase the country’s musical prowess are Mari and Tor Egil, aka Darling West. The duo mix folk and pop on their latest release, throwing a banjo into the mix for extra texture. The result is a dreamy pop concoction, as this song demonstrates.
It’s hard not to appreciate a brawny rock song about Botox. New Zealand’s Jamie McDell doesn’t pull her punches as she faces down flaws, both her own and those of others. To wit: “I was kinda thinking of Botox, baby, a modern way to turn back time” followed by “I asked the doctor if he could make me shorter, so you could get your manhood back.”
Jason James likes his country music from a different era, thank you. If you’re hankering for some George Jones or even Hank Williams, James has got you covered. The songs recall those of the bygone era, where the words are simple but not the meaning. James mostly sings of love gone wrong, set to classic country arrangements that are heavy on fiddle and pedal steel. This music is ripe for honky-tonk dancing, both fast and slow.
Coastal Clouds is the nom de plume for Santa Monica-based multi-instrumentalist Roberto Rodriguez. His debut album is filled with jangly pop that bristles with moody overtones. It plays like the musical rendering of a cloudy day in Los Angeles. Rodriguez’s voice and the overall production also add in a 1990’s UK alternative rock vibe, making for some fine ear candy.
I recall Toohey from my early days in Boston, before she decamped for Los Angeles and I lost touch with her music. So it was a pleasant surprise to see a concert listing with her name on one of my first days as a new New Yorker, all the more so to learn that it was an album release show.
Toohey has always had a great sense of melody, a quality that remains strong on Butch. Her music conveys a sense of comfort, even when she’s singing about heartbreak. While her songs are rooted in Americana, they are laced with the indie rock vibe of the music I remember from the Boston days. It’s an intoxicating combination.
New York City’s The Naturals consider themselves a power pop band but damn if the lead off track from their latest EP doesn’t conjure up memories of the Ramones. A heavy guitar riff opens the song before giving way, at least a bit, to a joyful pop melody.
“Something New” and “Starry Eyes” are equally fun pop candy. The latter is a classic kiss-off song wrapped in a sugary package, to wit: “I don’t wanna argue, there’s nothing to say, get me out of your starry eyes and be on your way.”
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.